- Cold War Literature: Writing the Global Conflict ed. by Andrew Hammond, and: Global Cold War Literature: Western, Eastern and Postcolonial Perspectives ed. by Andrew Hammond
Most serious writing in the West about the nuclear threat from the 1950s through the era of détente speculates on what seemed the very real prospect of a nuclear holocaust triggered by the polarized ideologies of the United States and the USSR, especially as the number of nuclear warheads continued to proliferate. Not only politicians, scientists, [End Page 228] historians, sociologists, and philosophers, but theologians, novelists, playwrights, poets, even cartoonists and children’s authors were preoccupied by life in what credibly felt like a futureless world. Popular journals, Hollywood films, and mass market literature regularly exploited the cultural obsession with the apocalypse, other texts wrestled with the dangerous paradox of, on the one hand, the solipsism of extreme fear of self-perpetuated doom and, on the other, the “psychic numbing” of an era grown complacent about the prospect that much of the world could be eradicated in a matter of hours.
Despite the continuing presence of nuclear warheads, as we have shifted from intercontinental ballistic missiles to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or North Korea, and from Star Wars defense systems to drone missiles, the threat of global annihilation now seems less urgent. Given that shift, what Andrew Hammond and the 27 contributors to these two volumes have provided for contemporary literary studies is not only the larger story of what the rest of the world was facing during the nuclear stand-off, but, more significant, a blueprint for reapproaching literatures worldwide as neither subject nor inimical to American and Soviet hegemony but as instrumental in deconstructing Cold War ideology itself.
In the first volume, Hammond’s introduction points out the utter misapplication of the term “Cold War” to describe a historical period during which an estimated 22 million people, mostly civilians, died in warfare. On that premise, he further observes that most Cold War literary criticism in the 1980s and 1990s focused exclusively on First World or Second World texts, in effect critically marginalizing literature from Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin American, and Africa, places where in the same period large numbers of people were struggling for independence from colonial or totalitarian regimes (usually supported by First or Second World powers), as they found themselves embattled between Communist and capitalist ideologies. In addressing this gap, the essays here range as much in their discussion of literary genres (fiction, poetry, drama, autobiography) as they do geographically. Andrei Rogachevskii offers an insightful chronological overview of the image of the West in Soviet fiction, poetry, and memoir, discussing both officially sanctioned texts and censored ones. Chris Megson focuses on the recurrent theme in British drama to break through the bipolarity of East-West relations. Daniel Cordle traces the “nuclear anxiety” portrayed in the work of American novelists such as Tim O’Brien, Don DeLillo, Robert Coover, and Leslie Marmon Silko, arguing that this anxiety implicitly shaped their postmodernism. Alan Wald examines the lingering critical suppression of American leftist writers, even a half-century after McCarthyism.
The other essays in volume one move outside the United States and USSR. Dana Healy traces how Vietnamese poetry, especially women’s poetry, evolved after the impact of the foreign occupation and ideological division of the country and finds, surprisingly, that the social realism of the poetry composed during the war against the United States gave way in the 1980s not to Vietnamese nationalism (which poets often assumed would become socialist) but to expression of the inner life. Similarly, Mary K. Deshazer emphasizes the hybridity and geographic reconfiguration of post-apartheid South Africa, also as evident in women’s poetry. Xiaomei Chen studies the changing [End Page 229] influence of Maoism on both national and international identities as portrayed on the Chinese stage before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution (1966...